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The German-language novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque is one of the most influential anti-war novels of all time. Although Remarque did not consider himself a political author, his novel unflinchingly explores the horror of the First World War and the complicity of those who encouraged the victims to enlist. The novel examines World War I through the lens of a single German soldier, Paul Baumer. Through flashbacks and a non-linear plot structure, “All Quiet on the Western Front” catalogs Paul’s journey from enlistment to training, the battlefield and, ultimately, his death. That Remarque chose to end his novel with the death of the protagonist is interesting because Baumer’s death in the final pages of the novel punctuates the book’s dominant theme: the futility of war.
Paul and his friends constantly rage in frustration at the unfairness of their dilemma. They are keenly aware that their enemies in the opposing trenches are stuck in the same predicament as they are. A sense of camaraderie between all soldiers from both sides of the conflict emerges in Remarque’s novel precisely because of the First World War’s futility. The protagonist of the novel famously says,
“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”
This shows the anti-war nature of the novel. The war portrayed in “All Quiet on the Western Front,” is not an adventure; it is hell. For the men who fought in the First World War, no glory was gained, and no treasure was won. Their sacrifices in the mud achieved nothing. It is this that Remarque highlights when he states his purpose in the epigraph:
"This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”
Through the honest and poetic portrayal of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” Remarque showcases the utter futility of the First World War and, by extension, clearly exhibits an anti-war sentiment.